Minerals are essential to the structure and most functions of the human body. They are needed for proper brain function, to maintain healthy bones and teeth, and even regulate metabolism. The minerals in the food we eat come from the soil in which it’s grown. Modern commercial farming practices that put a priority on traits such as size, growth rate, and pest resistance rather than nutrition have depleted the soil of valuable minerals[i]. Smaller farms may be more mindful of soil quality and actively work to replenish lost components.
Fortunately, incorporating freshwater algae and sea vegetables into your diet can be a reliable way to meet your body’s requirements for these important nutrients in a highly absorbable form.
Spirulina and chlorella are nutrient-dense algae grown in mineral-rich pools of freshwater. They are considered a rejuvenator of the body and are known to improve energy levels, especially mental energy. They are sold as individual powders, the flavour of which is very strong, so they are best consumed by mixing in a smoothie or with yogurt. Alternatively, you can choose to take them in capsule or tablet form.
Freshwater algae are also a common component of powdered greens supplements, along with a variety of other nutrients, which are often flavoured and can be mixed with water for an energizing drink. Several brands have sample sizes, so you can find just the right one to suit your palate.
This blue-green alga (cyanobacteria) is a very good source of antioxidants, B vitamins, iron, copper, and manganese[ii]. It is considered one of the most bioavailable and nutrient-dense foods on the planet.
Research in humans has shown benefits such as improving fatty liver, lowering triglycerides, improving glucose metabolism, and alleviating symptoms of allergic rhinitis[iii]. A daily dose of 1-8g has been shown to have some effect.
It’s important to note that while spirulina is protein-dense by weight, it should not be considered a primary source of dietary protein since the amount required would be too high for normal or even safe consumption (1 Tbsp (7g) of powder contains just 4g of protein).
This intensely coloured chia seed pudding is a fresh and sugar-free way to incorporate spirulina into your morning meal. The antioxidant- and phytonutrient-rich blueberries are flavourful enough to cover any mild algae taste that could put off sensitive palates. Chia seeds are a good source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, calcium, phosphorus, and fibre (3 Tbsp provides over 12g of fibre).
Enjoy as a breakfast by using it as a base for a hearty bowl or separate into 2 smaller snack-sized servings.
Makes 1 large serving
1 ripe banana
1 cup frozen blueberries
3/4 cup unsweetened almond, cashew milk, or other non-dairy milk
1-2 tsp (2.5-5g) spirulina powder
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (optional)
3 Tbsp (36g) whole chia seeds
This single-celled green alga is a rich source of chlorophyll, as well as vitamins A, C, B12, iron, magnesium, and zinc. It must undergo a special process where the cell walls are broken open to making it digestible by humans.
Chlorella is valued primarily for its ability to bind to heavy metals and unwanted chemicals in the body, so is often used to aid detoxification.
Plants that grow in the ocean are constantly bathed in mineral-rich seawater. Most high-quality sea vegetables (seaweeds) contain 10-20 times the minerals of land vegetables[vi]. They are a rich source of bioavailable iodine, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, potassium, and many more. The precise amounts of each nutrient vary depending on species, geographic area, the season of the year, and temperature of the water[vii].
There are several types of sea vegetables that can easily be purchased dried and ready for use. They vary in appearance, texture, and flavour. All are a good way to add umami (a savory taste) to a dish. Here are a few examples that you may want to include in your repertoire.
Kelp is perhaps the most familiar of the sea vegetables. This large brown seaweed is valued for its high iodine content, a nutrient that is not naturally found in the soil in Southern Ontario. Without this mineral, our body cannot produce thyroid hormone and hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) and even goiter (swelling of the thyroid gland) can result. It is also a rich source of potassium, iron, vitamin B6, and dietary fiber.
In supplement form, kelp is available in capsules or as a liquid extract.
In food, kelp granules can be used as a salty tasting low-sodium seasoning. 1 tsp of kelp granules can provide 967% of the recommended intake for iodine, so beware of over-consumption.
Enjoy the convenience and simplicity of an instant soup while using fresh whole food ingredients. Make a few jars of this recipe at once, store in the fridge, and pop one in your lunch bag for an easy mineral-rich meal.
1/2 cup kelp noodles, rinsed well and drained
1 Tbsp miso paste
1 Tbsp smooth peanut or almond butter
1/2 cup shelled edamame
1/4 cup grated carrot
1/4 cup baby spinach
1-2 Tbsp chopped green onion
Thyroid Function concerns: Iodine, Selenium, and the Thyroid Gland
Underconsumption of iodine is certainly a concern for thyroid function, but overconsumption is also something that should be avoided, especially for those with or at risk of a thyroid condition. Fortunately, adequate intake of the mineral selenium may help to protect the thyroid gland from excess iodine.
A few (2-4) brazil nuts or a good multivitamin can be sufficient to meet an adult’s daily need of selenium. Be sure to speak with your health care practitioner about what is right for you.
In my own home, I like to include some spirulina powder in our morning smoothies or in energy ball snacks. I love this whole food powerhouse and it's fun brilliant blue-green colour. Sea vegetables, on the other hand, are slowly being incorporated in our kitchen. My children aren’t fans of the texture of sea vegetables yet, so when I use them, I will include them when cooking soups, stews, or beans and then remove them before serving. This allows the minerals, flavour, and other goodness to permeate the dish, and my kids are none the wiser. Another favourite use is a sprinkling of kelp granules, as they have no fishiness and only improve the final taste of a dish.
If these micro plants and seaweeds are unfamiliar to you, I encourage you to take a brave step and give them a try. There is no better and tastier way to power-up your recipes!
Denise is a holistic nutritionist who helps individuals and families adopt a health-supporting whole foods plant-based lifestyle. She has a degree in Psychology, a diploma in Natural Nutrition, and a certificate in Plant-Based Professional cooking. She enjoys working not only with vegan and vegetarian clients, but also those who are looking to improve their health while incorporating more plant-based meals into their daily lives.
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